updated 02:25 pm EDT, Tue May 11, 2010
FCC hopes to avoid cellphone bill shock
The FCC today said (PDF) that it was mulling a requirement that cellular carriers warn customers about high overage fees. It warned that many subscriers weren't aware of the costs of roaming on data or voice and that safeguards might be necessary to prevent unintentionally expensive bills. Officials made a request for public comments (PDF) to help get input on the proposal.
Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau chief Joel Gurin argued that customers could easily be made aware of the limits and that hundreds were getting "bill shock" that wasn't necessary. European Union countries are required by law to send text messages when customers get near their limits or are going well above their limits.
"This is an avoidable problem," Gurin said. "Avoiding bill shock is good for consumers and ultimately good business for wireless carriers as well."
In the US, carriers only sometimes send these notifications. The unexpected bills have often reached into the thousands of dollars and have left subscribers having to contest the bills to cut them down to acceptable levels. In many cases, the companies involved have usually been willing to cut the bill down but still charge well above regular phone rates.
Calls for protection have become stronger ever since the iPhone and other more more accessible smartphones have made it easier to consume data. Apple and AT&T have been the first to more proactively tackle the issue. AT&T often sends text messages to phone users; on the iPad, users get multiple notifications if they run close to the limit on the tablet's 250MB 3G plan.